assure / ensure / insure

Assure means to tell another person something to remove doubt or anxiety. I was afraid we’d miss the flight, but my husband assured me we’d get to the airport in time. I assure you that the water here is perfectly safe to drink. After assure, we always have a person: assure you, assure him/her, etc….

carpet / mat / rug

These three words all refer to floor coverings – but they are of different sizes. A carpet usually covers the entire floor, from wall to wall: A rug covers a medium-sized area: A mat covers a very small area – like a doormat or a yoga mat:

apology / excuse

If you give an apology, you say you are sorry for doing something wrong. If you give an excuse, you provide a reason or explanation for the problem (this can be seen as trying to avoid responsibility). Apology: “I’m sorry I was late. It won’t happen again.” Excuse: “I was late because my car wouldn’t…

gut / guts

The word gut refers to a part of the body, but it has some metaphorical meanings, too. Your “gut” is your stomach. Some men have a “beer gut” (a big stomach from drinking too much beer!) and some people talk about wanting to do exercise to “lose their gut” (make their stomach smaller). We also…

farther / further

The word farther is used for distances: I ran 3 miles, but my sister ran 5 miles. She ran 2 miles farther than me. Philadelphia is just a two-hour drive away, but Washington is farther – it takes about 5 hours to get there. You can remember it because farther has the word “far” in…

replace / substitute

Both of these words mean to put something in place of another, but there are a few differences in usage. Let’s look at two cases: with people and with objects. Replacements tend to be long-term or permanent. They often involve something of the same type: – If a part in your car breaks, you need…

so / very / a lot

Use a lot of before nouns to mean a large quantity or a high number. “A lot of’ can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns. There were a lot of students in the classroom. I drank a lot of water during the marathon. Use verb + a lot to mean “very much” or…

beach / coast / shore

The word coast refers to a geographic area – it is the part of the land that is next to the ocean. You can also call it the coastline. The word shore can be used for the part of the land next to an ocean, sea, lake, or river. For rivers, you can also call…

beautiful / pretty

These words describe something that is attractive, nice to look at. The word beautiful is stronger and more complete. You could describe a spectacular sunset as beautiful, or a very attractive woman in a fancy dress as beautiful. The word pretty is more informal and superficial. A nice arrangement of flowers could be described as…

will / would

Use will: 1. to talk about the future Ex) The bus will leave at 8:30. Ex) Elections are next month. I think the president will be re-elected. 2. to make promises and offers – when in statement form (not in question form): Ex) Sorry I was late to class today. I’ll be on time tomorrow….

income / salary / wage

The money you receive for doing your job is your salary. A salary is usually the same amount every month; it doesn’t change based on the exact number of hours you work. A wage is when you receive money based on the number of hours you work: If you work 1 hour, you get a…

during / while / meanwhile / meantime

All of these words describe when two things are happening simultaneously (at the same time). Let’s start with during and while. Use during before a noun: The people sitting in front of me were talking during the movie. My boss seemed to be in a rush; she kept checking her watch during our meeting. Use…

scream / shout

Shouting is simply speaking loudly or making a loud sound. If you saw your friend some distance away at a crowded park, you might shout her name to get her attention. A soccer coach might shout instructions to the players on the field. Shouting can be angry, joyful, or neutral. When you scream, you make…

alone / lonely / only

Alone means “by yourself” – there is nobody else with you: I like to take long walks alone so that I have time to think. He got up and left the restaurant, leaving me alone at the table. Lonely means “feeling sad and isolated” – it is a negative emotion. I was lonely on my…

all ready / already / all right / alright

All ready and all right (two words) mean that everything is ready or everything is correct / OK: – The students are all ready for the test. – Your answers are all right. or All your answers are right. Already means that something happened earlier than expected: – He’s only 14 and he’s already graduated…

every day / everyday

Everyday (one word) is an adjective to describe something else: It’s easy to get stressed out by everyday problems. (everyday describes problems) These shoes are great for everyday wear. (everyday describes wear) When talking about how frequently something occurs, use every day (two words): I study English every day. I walk my dog every day.

answer / reply / respond

These verbs have essentially the same meaning. You can: answer an email reply to an email (most common when talking about e-mail) respond to an email When someone calls you, you answer the phone (or pick up the phone). When you make a statement or some comments, we usually say the other person replies or…

advice / advise

Advice is a noun, and advise is a verb: She gave me some good advice. She advised me to get some rest. There’s also a pronunciation difference: advice has an “S” sound, and advise has a “Z” sound. Don’t make the common error of saying “advices” – the word advice is uncountable. However, you can…

discover / find out / notice / realize

To notice means to perceive something with your senses – to see, hear, smell, or feel it. She raised her hand, but the teacher didn’t notice her and called on another student to answer the question. I made a few mistakes during my piano performance, but nobody noticed. I noticed a strong smell of smoke…

lay / lie

This is the technical difference between lay and lie: You lay an object onto a surface. Could you lay those mats on the floor, please? She laid the books on the table. The workers are laying the carpet in the new building. Again, you lay an object onto a surface. But a person/thing lies (itself)…

will

Forms Will is a ‘modal auxiliary verb’. It has no -s in the third person singular; questions and negatives are made without do: after will, we use an infinitive without to. Will the train be on time? Contractions are ‘II, won’t. Do you think it’ll rain ? It won’t rain. Future We can use will…

council / counsel

The noun council refers to a group of people that discusses or decides about a particular subject, or that represents people, or runs an organization. It is like a committee. The city council voted to invest more funds in education. The security council is debating the use of armed guards at shopping centers. The noun…

who ever, what ever, how ever etc

These express surprise, or difficulty in believing something. Who ever is that girl with the green hair? What ever are you doing? How ever did you manage to start the car? I couldn’t. When ever will I have time to write some letters? Where ever have you been? Why ever didn Y you tell me…

ancient / antique

The word ancient means very, very old – usually hundreds or thousands of years old: Archeologists found remnants of an ancient civilization that lived in the area around 600 BC. The word antique describes an item that is from an earlier period -usually 50-100 years old: Guillaume Blanchard I inherited an antique table from my…

whoever, whatever, whichever, however, whenever and wherever

These words mean ‘it doesn’t matter who’, ‘it doesn’t matter what’, etc. They are conjunctions: they join clauses together. Whoever, whatever and whichever are also relative pronouns: they can be the subjects or objects of clauses. [whoever etc + clause + clause clause + whoever etc + clause] Whoever telephones, tell them I’m out. I’m…

sale / sell

Sell is a verb and sale is a noun: – I’m going to sell my car and buy a new one. – She’s selling bottles of water at the football game. – Yesterday I sold all of my old college textbooks on the internet. – The bookstore is having a Christmas sale – everything is…

below / under / beneath / underneath

The word under is the most common. It is usually used for three-dimensional objects: I found my textbook under the bed. The cat is lying under the table. The papers are under that magazine. Under can be used both when the objects are touching (as in the papers and magazine) and when the objects are…

aid / assist / help

There is no difference in meaning between these three words, but there are some slight differences in the way they fit in the sentence. Help is the most common and most informal (aid and assist are both more formal). Aid is more commonly used as a noun, not a verb: a hearing aid is a…

automobile / car / vehicle

The word automobile is just another name for a car. In casual everyday English, we usually use the word car. The word vehicle describes the more general category – it means a device for transporting people or things. Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, military tanks, sleds, horse-drawn wagons, even bicycles can all be considered vehicles. All…

can / could / able to

“Can” and “able to” are the same in the present tense: Can you take on this project? Yes, I can take on this project. Are you able to take on this project? Yes, I’m able to take on this project. The negative forms are can’t and not able to – or unable to: Sorry, I…